Answering the Question: Do You Need to Add Fertilizers to Your Garden to Feed This Year’s Crops?

The earth produced bountifully for thousands of years to those people who worked with nature and followed her principles. Then only a little more than 150 or so years ago, a German chemist by the name of Justus Von Liebig mistakenly deduced that nitrogen, phosphorous and potash (potassium carbonate) was what nourished plants.

The NPK of today’s chemical agriculture was born.

Chemical companies jumped right on that wrong assumption. They immediately saw the profitability in the commercial development of synthetic chemicals. With the money to promote heavily, it didn’t take long for most farmers all over the world to become dependent on these chemicals. After all, they were told via marketing that their farms would never produce without them.

Liebig even attacked the (correct) “notion” that humus (decayed organic materials) was the principal source of nourishment for plants. His attack was successful. So much so that the majority of folks considered someone who looked to humus to grow successful crops as being totally unreasonable. (That might still be the case today.)

Ten years later, poor old Liebig finally realized that he had been wrong and that organic matter, not chemicals, was the secret to fertilizing the soil after all. In spite of his efforts to admit he was wrong, it was too late. The chemical companies were off and running and making lots of money. There was no stopping them.

During the two world wars business boomed even more for chemical companies. After the wars they saw a decline in the need for their products. They put their thinking caps on and found ways to take surplus chemicals and harmful waste products and turn them into products like herbicides and medicinal drugs . By the time they finished promoting, folks came to think these poisons were really needed.

Indeed it was and has been “marketing at its finest” in terms of accomplishing their goal of more profit at any cost.

A Reader Writes

I received a most interesting email a few weeks ago from a reader in Sri Lanka, Niwas, who had ordered my book, Organic Gardening Cutting Through the Hype to the 3 Keys to Successful Gardening.

Niwas wrote:

I’ve received the book and already finished up to section vii.. It’s really fantastic. The way that you have made big big garden concepts in a simple but straight forward way is marvelous.

—we who live in this part of the world, what is called THIRD WORLD, witness the environmental degradation due to the blind — use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides which are very attractively and freely promoted by multinational marketers.

Farmers here are not educated enough to understand the cruel intention of these multinational marketers. Even home gardeners  are little bothered about these things.

Anyway, I’m happy to get your connection and really appreciate  your great service to open the eyes of people all around the world.

My heartfelt thanks and wishes to continue your good work further …

I wrote back to Niwas and mentioned that evidently the vast majority of farmers in the United States are not educated enough to understand it either.

The area in which I live is the perfect example.  Soils have been totally depleted and abused through the use of chemicals and bad farming practices of conventional agriculture.

Fortunately, no matter the darkness in this world, we are never left without a light. We just have to be willing to “see” it or “hear” it.

Concept Spillover

Sadly the concept of needing to add some type of fertilizer to the soil (in addition to organic materials) has spilled over to organic gardeners as well. They want to do the same thing as conventional gardeners do, but they want it “ok for use in an organic garden.”  That just might be missing the big picture.

One lady – not a reader of TMG – wrote to me and asked what I added for nitrogen in the spring when I planted crops.

My Answer

When organic materials decay they become organic matter (humus). That’s the source of nutrients for your plants. The more diverse your organic materials are, the more diverse will be the nutrients in your soil. (This is why planting different cover crops and even perennial grasses where possible is so beneficial to your soil.)

Every year you need to “feed” your soil. If you do that, the living organisms in the soil will “feed” your plants. That’s how nature has it set up.

If soil has been badly abused it may take some time to see the best results. Rest assured all your efforts are cumulative. This means that your good results will increase with every passing year.

This “adding nitrogen” thing is a result of marketing by chemical companies that was started back in the 1800’s as I explained at the beginning of this post.

I never (and never have in almost 40 years of gardening) added a nitrogen “product” to my soil.  It’s not necessary.

Sometimes my plants grow slowly for a while and then when conditions are right — they take off! I never “force” them to grow. Forcing the soil (or your plants) is a poor practice.

If you’re following nature and keeping your soil life supplied with organic materials, especially a diversity of materials including various cover crops, you need do nothing else.  The soil life will take care of everything for you.

Final Thoughts

When you want to buy this, that, or the other for your plants or soil, you just might be feeling the results of heavy marketing.  Be aware, because ALL of us are subject to it.

Determine ahead of time what you really want for your garden and what your beliefs are. That way at least you won’t be subject to impulse buying.


Related Posts (I have dozens of posts related to this topic, but am only listing a few here.)

Cover Crops and Diversity – Need More Proof they Work? Hard to Believe it Could Come from a Few Conventional Farmers

Peppers – Lush Growth – No Fruit – and Other Problems

Organic Residues – The Needed Energy for Soil Fertility

Organic Gardening – Adding Commercial Fertilizers – Nutrient Dense Food

3 Books That Can Change Your Garden, Your Health, and The Way You Look at Life

Organic Gardening Cutting Through the Hype to the 3 Keys to Successful Gardening.


All content including photos are copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.


  • Theresa,
    I have found the same to be true…plants that are a bit slow to come on will catch up when conditions are right. Patience is the best additive I can give and it doesn’t cost a thing.
    Suzanne@ Le Farm

  • Well said! And how wonderful that your commonsense advice has reached the other side of the earth! I have been reading “Farmers of Forty Centuries.” It was first published in 1911 and describes how every bit of organic matter was saved and returned to the soil to feed the crops. In this way, these civilizations were able to feed themselves from the same soil for centuries.

    In this country, we had already wore out the soil and moved on in our march across the continent. Chemicals then allowed us to produce in dead soil at great cost to ourselves and our environment. It also set up a “company store” situation for farmers and their agrochemical suppliers, establishing a treadmill that continues to put many of them out of business. Keep preachin’ sister!

  • I have been using organic material for some time on my veg. beds. I have access to unlimited coffee grounds and egg shells but have refrained from adding them to my mulch of leaves, grass clippings, and straw because I’m not sure that a good thing could be too much. I always add new mulch to the top layer and just let it “percolate” down. I received your book back on Mar. 2, 2014 and refer to it often as well as reading it cover to cover again during my bored time each winter. Thanks

  • Great article! I kept reaching for the “LIKE” button not only for your blog but also for each of the comments afterward! And kudos for you reaching clear across the world!
    My solid hard packed red clay has turned such a fluffy, rich, dark, full of life soil because of your common sense direction. Thank you so very much! My results are dramatic.

  • Thanks for the confirmation Suzanne. I like how you put it – “Patience is the best additive.”

    Betty, that book sound very interesting. If one searches there is much information out there that tells of the great bounty folk obtained or obtain without chemical use. Wish the masses could realize that it’s the chemicals causing all the problems.

    Mike, I was glad to hear that you refer to the book often and read it over again in down seasons.
    That is THE best way to get all the information.
    When I wrote the book it was like I had all my TMG friends right with me and I was talking to you. So delighted that you have enjoyed it.

    Toni, I LOVE hearing about your soil. I know that feeling first hand. When I hear people talk about how horrible clay soil is — I smile, because I envision “improved clay soil” which is THE BEST!!!
    So glad you have benefited from TMG! Thanks for commenting Toni!


Leave a Comment